Predictions 101 — Week 14

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Last week, we went 5-2 straight and versus “the number,” nailing the three biggies at the top of the list.

Let’s see how we do with the regular season’s final set, which is dripping with BCS implications.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 29, thru Sat., Dec. 1)

1) No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia in SEC title game at Atlanta
Sat., Dec. 1 — 4 p.m. ET, CBS

This SEC championship game doubles as a national semifinal, but in our mind it’s also for all the marbles. Either the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs will earn the honor of winning the SEC’s seventh consecutive BCS championship with a victory over No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7.

While quick to jump to the conclusion above, we’re slow to adopt the prevailing opinion that Alabama will beat Georgia.

If we had the choice, we’d take the Bulldog defense over the Tide’s. Georgia linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are as good as it gets at their respective positions, and they’re just the beginning.

Despite the rock steady quarterbacking of junior A.J. McCarron, the Alabama offense will experience its share of three-and-outs.

When the Bulldogs have the football, the same can be said. The big question revolves around how Georgia triggerman Aaron Murray rises to the occasion.

Against the two toughest teams he’s played this season, Murray struggled. In the Dawgs’ lone loss, a 35-7 debacle at South Carolina on Oct. 6, he was just 11-of-31 for 109 yards with an interception. Although Georgia beat Florida, 17-9, three weeks later to earn this trip to Atlanta, Murray wasn’t the reason. In fact, the Bulldogs won in spite of the three INTs he threw during a 12-of-25 performance that yielded 150 yards and a touchdown pass.

Murray hasn’t been picked off in any of the four games since the Cocktail Party, but the fact that four of his seven interceptions this season came against the only two teams that are even remotely capable of playing defense at Alabama’s level is worrisome.

Murray, who also hasn’t been able to get Georgia over the hump in its past two bowl games, is trying something new this week. He imposed his own personal media blackout, presumably to restrict questions about not being a big-game quarterback from affecting his performance.

We don’t look at that as a good sign and it tipped the scales.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 7 1/2

The pick: Alabama 23-20

2) No. 14 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin in Big Ten title game at Indianapolis
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8:17 p.m. ET, FOX

The Badgers haven’t had the season they expected, losing five regular-season games and going .500 in league play. But they aren’t about to conclude that this just isn’t their year and roll over for the Cornhuskers.

It’s quite the opposite actually. This is Wisconsin’s second chance, a holiday gift like no other.

If they play their cards right, the Badgers are potentially 120 minutes of football away from being crowned Rose Bowl champions. (No Oregon in Pasadena … just Stanford or UCLA!)

Remember that Wisconsin gave Nebraska all it could handle in Lincoln on Sept. 29. The Badgers appeared headed to victory after taking a 27-10 lead in the third quarter, but the Huskers scored 20 answered points on four consecutive drives.

Wisconsin had a chance to win the game in the final minutes, but tailback Montee Ball fumbled on a fourth-and-one, allowing the Cornhuskers to run out the clock.

Ball ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. But in the end, his team netted only 56 rushing yards.

Nebraska had far less difficulty, rumbling for 259 yards on the ground.

That’ll even out a bit in the rematch and the game will go down to the wire. Something tells us the Badgers will go for a two-point conversion or take some chances in the fourth quarter to avoid overtime, which has been a 0-3 proposition for them this season.

Opening point spread: Nebraska by 2 1/2

The pick: Nebraska 24-23

3) No. 17 UCLA at No. 8 Stanford in Pac-12 title game
Fri., Nov. 30 — 8 p.m. ET, FOX

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

After winning Round 1, which determined that there would be a rematch with Oregon watching on TV, Cardinal head coach David Shaw said: “I expect them to give us everything. I expect this to be a very tough, physical game. It’s going to be 10 times harder. We’re going to get their best shot.”

We share that belief. After exchanging opening drive touchdowns and holding Stanford to a trio of three-and-outs, UCLA head coach Jim Mora clearly called off the dogs.

Following the 35-17 Cardinal victory, an ornery L.A Times columnist asked Mora if he treated the contest like an NFL preseason charade in order to avoid playing Oregon and hide game plan elements from Stanford. The exchange was supremely entertaining.

After the first-quarter stalemate, who could blame Mora for going vanilla against a team that’s clearly a far easier matchup than the Ducks? Why not avoid Eugene as if the plague had broken out there? Palo Alto is beautiful this time of year.

Check how many times Mora had Jonathan Franklin run the ball on first down. The predictable play calling was designed to finish the game, not win it.

Round 2 will be a back-and-forth affair that will surprise many. In the end, Mora’s gamesmanship will come up short in a tight contest. A final clock-killing drive, showing what Stanford is made of, will seal it.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 10

The pick: Stanford 34-27

4) No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech in ACC title game at Charlotte, N.C.
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both teams are busy licking their wounds on the way to this ACC Championship Game.

The Seminoles saw their faint BCS title hope go up in flames in a 37-26 loss to Florida last Saturday, while the Yellow Jackets were brushed aside, 42-10, by Georgia on its way toward a possible BCS title game appearance.

The difference in this contest is that Florida State’s defense has the ability to bounce back from its leaky outing. Georgia Tech’s problems on that side of the ball figure to persist.

That’s not to say that the Seminoles will shut down the Yellow Jacket option attack, after allowing the Gators to roam for 240 yards on the ground, but even with the loss of defensive end Tank Carradine to a knee injury, they clearly have the athletes to keep it in check.

Look for E.J. Manuel and the rest of the FSU offense to spring a bunch of big plays to easily claim a spot in the Orange Bowl (against … see below).

Opening point spread: Florida State by 13

The pick: Florida State 37-20

5) Louisville at Rutgers
Thurs., Nov. 29 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Cardinals are ticketed for the ACC and the Scarlet Knights are bound for the Big Ten, but we’re still talking about the Big East here, so this predicting business is unquestionably an effort in futility.

Nevertheless, there’s important stuff going on in Piscataway. If the Scarlet Knights win, they play in their first BCS game. If the Cardinals are victorious, they’ll likely get the Orange Bowl nod.

Cardinal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play with a broken left wrist. The Louisville running game is equally banged up with running back Senorise Perry on the shelf (ACL). In its last two games, Louisville has rushed for a total of only 75 yards.

All of that doesn’t add up to success versus Rutgers, which is allowing only 13.7 points per game.

Opening point spread: Rutgers by 2

The pick: Rutgers 26-17

Ole Mis AD: Hugh Freeze would’ve been fired for cause if he hadn’t resigned

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In the end, regardless of how he chose to play it out, Hugh Freeze‘s time in Oxford would’ve come to an end.

Thursday night brought the stunning news that Freeze’s tenure as the head coach at Ole Miss had come to an end because of at least one call from his university-issued cell phone to a known escort service.  Freeze, to Yahoo! Sports, blamed the call on a misdial; Freeze’s now-former boss, athletic director Ross Bjork, led the same website to write that “further vetting of Freeze’s phone records disclosed a ‘pattern of conduct’ that led the school administration to confront Freeze this week.”

After meeting with Freeze Wednesday night and then again Thursday morning, the die had been cast for the coach.

Bjork said that if Freeze had not offered his resignation he would have been fired for cause, citing the “moral turpitude” clause in Freeze’s contract. Bjork said there was no buyout of the contract and no settlement.

“He admitted that conduct to us,” Bjork said. “None of us are perfect. Nobody in this room is perfect. I think we need to respect how he resigned and respect his privacy.

The infamous call in question — it lasted one minute, which gives at least some credence to Freeze’s claim that this one was a misdial — came to light as a result of Houston Nutt’s recently-filed lawsuit against Freeze, the university and other high-ranking school officials.  No other calls to that specific phone number were found in a review of an estimated 39,000 calls made from Freeze’s school-issued phone; “[h]owever, the school kept digging through the records and must have found additional troubling information,” the website wrote

Freeze’s admission to “that conduct” according to Bjork says as much.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze resigns after discovery of phone calls to escort service

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Forget about Hugh Freeze being on the hot seat in Oxford. He won’t even be coaching a single game for the Rebels this fall.

Hugh Freeze resigned from his position as head coach at Ole Miss suddenly on Thursday evening, just a week after SEC Media Days. The resignation is effective immediately, and the school has announced co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Luke will take over the head coaching responsibilities for the upcoming season as the interim head coach. It should be expected Ole Miss will conduct a search for a new full-time head coach as soon as possible, but an official hire being made before the start of the season remains in question.

The resignation comes after the school discovered a phone call to an escort service coming from his school-issued cell phone. And it apparently was not an accidental wrong number either.

According to a report from Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, Ole Miss reviewed phone records tied to Freeze as far back as 2012. Earlier in the day, USA Today reporter Dan Wolken reported Freeze had made a phone call to the number associated with a female escort service. The phone call in the report occurred in January of 2016. How many phone calls were discovered by Ole Miss is at this time unknown. Once confronted with the phone numbers by Bjork, Freeze is said to have offered his resignation. Whether he voluntarily offered to resign or if he was pushed to resign by the school may never be known for sure, but given the heat on Freeze already following recent headlines it may be pretty easy to see how this all played out behind closed doors.

It has been a troublesome summer for Freeze. Just last week, he was targetted in a lawsuit filed by former Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt, and Freeze has had to deny any members of his staff knowingly violated any NCAA rules following an investigation into the program. Freeze was previously targeted in a lawsuit filed by the stepdad of former Ole Miss player Laremy Tunsil just months after the NCAA discovered 13 violations against the Ole Miss program under the leadership of Freeze last year.

In five seasons at Ole Miss, Freeze was 39-25 and coached Ole Miss to a 2-1 record in postseason bowl games. Along the way, he recruited some of the best classes in school history, although how he and his staff managed to do so has been the subject of plenty of scrutinies and the findings continue to come together to suggest foul play was used. Calls to escort services will not help that look at all. Before being hired at Ole Miss, Freeze coached Arkansas State to a 19-3 record in 2011.

Luke, an Ole Miss alum from the Class of 2000, joined the Ole Miss coaching staff in 2012 with Freeze.

Todd Graham subtly names Manny Wilkins starting QB at ASU, says Barnett will have to win the job

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Arizona State picked up a nice addition to the depth chart with the addition of quarterback Blake Barnett this past winter. Barnett was given the chance to be immediately eligible to play for Arizona State this season rather than have to sit out a season, but he will have to get to work in order to win the starting job with the Sun Devils if Todd Graham‘s latest comments are accurate.

Speaking to media today at a facilities tour, Graham was asked about the quarterback competition. Graham not-so-subtly named Manny Wilkins the team’s starter for the 2017 season, barring any other changes between now and the start of the season.

“I didn’t make an announcement, I just didn’t want our opponent know who was going to play but I thought our opponent knew, I think everybody knew,” Graham said, referring to a season-opening game against New Mexico State. “We have a returning starter and he’s the starting quarterback until someone beats him out.”

Perhaps most notably, one of the quarterbacks who will look to knock Wilkins off the top of the depth chart will be Barnett, the transfer from Alabama who was a major recruit for the Crimson Tide not so long ago. Barnett started the  2016 season as Alabama’s official starter but lost the full-time job to Jalen Hurts right out of the gate with a shaky performance in the season opener while Hurts put on a show (and led Alabama to the national championship game). Barnett then opted to leave the program in search of a new opportunity to compete for the starting job.

“Right now, we have a starting quarterback and Blake knows he has to beat him out,” Graham said. “I’m looking forward to see that competition and a very physical, Sun Devil tough training camp.”

Report: Alabama RB B.J. Emmons, CB Aaron Robinson leaving program

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The Alabama Crimson Tide may not be hurting on the depth chart as a result, but two players are leaving the program in search of other opportunities. Running back B.J. Emmons and cornerback Aaron Robinson are both leaving Tuscaloosa, according to a report from AL.com.

As the news was breaking, multiple reports say Emmons has enrolled at Hutchinson Community College. Emmons missed some games last season due to a foot injury, but he is expected to be back to 100 percent health this fall. Of course, at Alabama, the running back position is stacked and difficult to get much playing time to begin with. Robinson was also expected to be a backup for Alabama this fall after working with the second team unit in the spring.

Emmons was Alabama’s fifth-leading rusher in 2016 with 173 yards and a touchdown in seven games. Robinson appeared in 13 games and recorded five total tackles as a freshman.

Both Emmons and Robinson will be eligible to play for another FBS program starting in 2018 after sitting out the 2017 season, due to NCAA transfer rules. They are eligible to play at a lower division school this fall, whether it is an FCS or lower program or a junior college. The junior college route appears to be the path Emmons is taking by enrolling at a community college.